It’s The Little Things


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October is the offical month of mental heath awareness. It’s a trending on social media, and I even had the chance to attend a live Q&A segment on depression – which is experienced by 1 in 6 people at some stage in their life. As the state of our mental health becomes increasingly recognised as a problem, more attention is being paid to seemingly ‘smaller’ solutions. One such solution is kindness. And the idea that, even in small doses, it can make a big difference in how someone feels.

ABC has been crowd sourcing for stories about kindness, so I’ve decided to share a bit of my work. In the large sprawling city where I live, people rush on by while appearing to be trapped in their heads. Sometimes their expression says everything they aren’t saying.

To avoid coming across as confronting, I’ve been leaving little messages behind for those who need them. Through the gift of technology – and without directly crossing paths – these are some of the people who’ve made my day, by telling me that I’ve made theirs.

My Crossroad: Moving State

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The Crossroads of Should and Must – Elle Luna

It’s amusing how the most unexpected and usual scenarios can play themselves out for a second time.

I recently went camping for the weekend to spend a night under the stars, but only to find myself lost… in thought. I was preoccupied with the possibility of how my life may change based on the news I was awaiting. Last time it was whether I got accepted into the volunteer program that sent me to Tonga for the year; this time it was a potential job offer in another state.

Once again, I returned to get the good news, but also to be left with the weight of a gigantic decision to make.

Just like Tonga was a country that I never saw myself visiting, Sydney is a city I never saw myself living in.  I even wrote a post about how I didn’t enjoy my last experience there…

But there is a key difference this time: why I’m going.

I have the opportunity to work for an organisation that focuses specifically on promoting mental health and preventing youth suicide. It’s an opportunity to better lives and to make a ‘difference’ – pretty much the kind of difference that I intended this blog to make by reaching out to the kid I once was: sitting alone in my room starting at the wall for hours; lost, numb and unwilling to fully participate in life. It’s the opportunity to save someone from making the mistake that I’m lucky I never made. It’s an unfortunate reality, but many people do – which is why what this organisation does is so important.

But the question remained: how important is it that I do it?

I spoke to everyone – from my friends and family, to passing strangers and even shop clerks. I also spent one hour going through a pros-and-cons list with my psychologist. No one could give me a definite answer. This advice from a friend illuminated my biggest concern:

“When it comes to making such big decisions, make sure you’re running to something, not just running from something.”

Not that I regret my decision – but I will admit, my decision to go to Tonga was definitely motivated by the latter. I enjoy the feeling of escaping; I think I always will. But I also desire to grow; I hope I always will. As I’ve been slowly sinking back into old habits and mindsets since returning, leaving my ‘comfort zone’ may strangely enough, be the only way to save myself.

Sink or swim.

Just as pressure forges diamonds, it’s said that it makes the best in us shine. I hope it does because, apart from the job, at this stage, I’ve got nothing else of value waiting for me. I believed going to Tonga would allow me to reinvent myself – which it did. But it also left the process largely incomplete. Which is why I’m hoping another change of scenery will allow me to discover the rest of my missing pieces.

Currently, I dislike the uncertainty I have in my life. I’d definitely prefer to be ‘normal’ with a secure job, wife, house, and baby; but I deeply desire to be different, too. Or better put: myself. My employment experience so far has also proven that I’d be better off with some congruency between who I am and what I do. Just as Elle Luna asks in her ‘must read’  book, The Crossroads of Should and Must:

“What if who we are and what we do become one and the same? What if our work is so thoroughly autobiographical that we can’t parse the product from the person? In this place, job descriptions and titles no longer make sense; we no longer go to work, we are the work.”

It’s a question worth asking; but we are not always given or guaranteed an answer, to which Luna also states:

“To choose Must is to say yes to a journey without a road map or guarantees.”

So I can’t say that taking the job is specifically the best decision… but I do feel it’s certainly a step in the right direction. And that’s enough for me to choose Must.

PS

* Great Ted Talk by David Brooks discussing the desire to live for more than just our work.

A Note About Hope

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Hope reveals itself in mysterious ways.

A final gasp for air, the first drop of rain, the step away from the ledge, the hand that picks up the phone, the improving blood test results, the stern lips that crack to reveal a smile, or as the light creeping through the shades against every self-loathing desire to remain in the dark.

Last week I fell quite sick. Each night I found myself drenched in sweat with the feeling that a pick axe had been delivered to an unreachable point inside my skull. I was already down – so this was the ground breaking away to further my fall and add depth to my despair.

In the same week, a friend’s baby passed away at 7 months, and another found out his dad has cancer and that one of his friends had also recently died in a car crash. News was also given that a close friend of my parents had passed away after being ill.

Today, someone knocked on my door to explain the inhumanities going on in Syria. He was hoping I would donate to the charity he represented. I said I wasn’t in the position to – but I empathised with the fact he was walking door to door in the heat, to which he was quick to state, “it’s not about me.”

Of course not. It’s about all of us. And how as conscious individuals, a community, a country, a chunk of rock floating in space – we hurt, so much and so deeply at times… But we also hope.

Hope is an unwavering desire which becomes the belief that no matter what happens; how much we take or lose, and no matter the odds; we still have something to clench dearly in our hands.. as well as the strength to swing back.

I’m now feeling much better. I know those torn by the tragedies I mentioned will eventually recover in due time. I also know that unfortunately, not everyone makes it; some people lose hope. I know that not all damage can be repaired. But as fractured as our lives become, we do find a way to move on and piece together some new meaning of our existence, and, persistence. In his powerful Ted Talk, Andrew Solomon refers to this process as ‘forging meaning and finding identity’. 

I’ve written about situations I’m close to, but such stories exist all over the world and throughout history. That’s another way Hope reveals itself.

Whatever Hope actually is, I’m glad it exists … and I hope you can find it.

Fears Vs Dreams

IMAG1142-1I haven’t posted in a while. I haven’t been doing much – but one thing worth mentioning is that I’ve been connecting with other people battling similar feelings and organisations advocating the same uplifting, hope-filling, positive messages that I’m trying to send.

I came across the organisation, To Write Love On Her Arms, through a Ted Talk by Jamie Tworkowski, its founder. That’s how I discovered the online movement of Fears Vs Dreams.

It’s amazing how, with the help of a pen, a person’s courage and honesty can transform a mostly blank piece of paper into a power statement. I felt comforted to know I’m not the only one who fears being a failure, giving up, or being alone etc. I felt uplifted to know I’m not the only one who’s dreaming a dream that sometimes seems far beyond their reach.

Scrolling through the submissions, I realised that while everyone person has their own individual story, their demons, and their journey ahead of them; we’re never alone through any of it.

As the Boy Under the Bridge, I’m living a story. I will not give up.

 

 

 

Too short at Twenty-two

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Today was just another day for many; the birthday for someone I know; and the 5 year anniversary of the day that someone I used to know, lost his life.

At 22 years old, Andy was gone before life gave him the chance – or rather unfortunately, there is reason to believe it was the other way around. Who knows what was behind  those passing clouds… if he just waited in the rain.

Instead of brighter days, he’s getting flowers laid.
Instead of creating new memories, he’s fading in ours.
To someone I could have saved, I apologise with a visit to his grave.
We already know this: nothing is promised.
So don’t just live life as if it’s a gift..
be one, so you’ll be missed.  

 

Somethings To Say, Before the Sun Sets

Last sunset

So, I’m home. My one year work assignment in Tonga has come to an end. I made several monthly posts during my experience, but feel I should do one last post to properly see this chapter of my life closed. (You can read all the posts I wrote while away here)

If you haven’t been following my story, here is the gist of it: I moved into a new place, started a new job, hated it, but I went through the motions of working and saving. I booked a 1 month holiday to the USA, but eventually got fired first. I tried finding a job I’d actually enjoy, came very close in a few interviews, discovered an international development / capacity building program, thought why not, applied, got accepted, refunded my planned holiday, moved out, and then spent 2014 overseas.

I was as shocked as everyone else. Having spent my whole life in the one city, it’s something I never considered or saw coming… which was why I believed it was so important to ‘just go with it’ before it got away.

Since leaving childhood, I’ve learned that card tricks, control, and certainty are all illusions.

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It turned out that what appeared to be a sunny tropical island was actually the furtherest from my comfort zone that I’ve ever been.

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I’ve heard it before; you’ve heard it before: sometimes, you’ve got to get uncomfortable. I get it now, I really do. Once we’re past puberty, the only growth we get is voluntary (with the exception of toenails and unwanted hairs.) It’s also excluding physical workouts. I’ve done a lot of those. Lifting twice your bodyweight is uncomfortable, but there is still an element of control: we know we’ll either be successful in the lift or we won’t – and we’re familiar with both outcomes either way.

Real growth is more than just physical; it’s a deeper change than that. And really being uncomfortable means giving up all perceived control and certainty over the situation. Simply put, it means not knowing.

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There was a lot I didn’t know: Where I’d live, what work would be like, who my friends would be, what I’d eat, and what I’d spend my spare time doing. These are all common questions to which I now know the answers; but what really makes going away such an experience is the things that you learn … that you didn’t expect or know you needed to learn.

There was a lot that happened over the year; there is a lot to write about, and there is a lot I already did write about.  Looking back, here are the main things I want you to know… and that I want myself to remember.


1) HAPPINESS IS AN OUTLOOK

I arrived in Tonga feeling sorry for people, but I returned home feeling sorry for myself. I realised I had been sold a dream. I had been told by a combination of my peers, upbringing, and culture – that there were set requirements for being happy. There aren’t. Despite being classed as a ‘developing country,’ people in Tonga smiled, laughed and seemed openly happier. How? Isn’t that the point of all the luxuries and privileges of the the western world? Well, I learned that it’s all about perception.

You can’t enjoy the taste of what you’ve got when you’re sniffing the fumes of what you don’t have.

I coined the above term, but I’m just as guilty of the offence as anyone else. With less disparity between wealth and status, and hardly any mass advertising, people in Tonga can devote their full attention to what they do have – and tend to be happier as the result.

I’d be lying to claim I’ve dropped all my desires since coming back to the western world. Desire and ambition definitely has its place. But given what I’ve learned, I’m definitely trying to remember that

there’s satisfaction in simplicity, and a blessing behind every breath.


2) THE SLOWER YOU GO, THE MORE YOU SEE

Tonga has Tonga Time, Fiji has Fiji Time, and so on. It’s a fact; time moves slower in the South Pacific. As a ‘city rat,’ getting used to a slower pace of life definitely required some adjusting. There were also withdrawals from what I call ‘stimulation addiction,’ to which mobile phones and modern technology are the most common perpetrating paraphernalia. With less internet access, less happening in my environment, and overall, less urgency – I eventually found myself slowing down. And that’s when it happened.

I started to notice more things – rather peculiar things: the positions of the stars, the sound of the sea, the weight of the breeze, the variations of trees and flowers, the way animals behaved, and many other minute details. Of course, in the west, this approach would result in a lot of missed busses, pissed of people, and possibly accusations of staring in public. It’s also not humanly possible or healthy to consciously process everything; but it is worth paying a little bit more attention every now and then. You never know what you may notice.


3) FAITH HAS ITS PLACE

I’ve never been religious. Sure, kinda Buddhist and strangely spiritual; but not religious.  I’ve always respected peoples’ rights to make their own decisions; but it wasn’t until going to Tonga that I actually began to understand why some people choose to believe.

I met people who lived in tin sheds and without access to basic necessities – yet they clutched their bibles as if it was their most vital resource. I met youths who were surround by bad influences and dangerous temptations – yet God was an authority figure they wouldn’t dare to disobey. I met people who made massive sacrifices in their own lives in order to help others – yet they were modest in their contributions and efforts, acknowledging Jesus as their inspiration and mentor.

Across these different circumstances, there was the one how – and the one why: God.

I’ve read The God Delusion, find Sam Harris fascinating, and am aware of the ways religion is exploited as a tool of manipulation – but I can’t disregard the way that religion and faith has proved to be a solid foundation in lives that are otherwise crumbling; the way way it provides clarity to those conflicted between choices; and they way it widely opens the hearts of those in the position to help others.

Religion doesn’t have a place in my life, and it may not have one in yours; but there’s no doubting it has its place in the world. 


4) TALENT CAN FLOURISH ANYWHERE

I had the privilege of meeting some amazingly talented individuals. At 17yrs of age, Paul is a perfect example. This video showcases his talent as a self-taught dancer and choreographer. And he certainly isn’t the only example. It seemed that Tongans had the natural ability to dance, sing, draw, and play sport. This is without the many learning opportunities and resources available in the west. I mean, despite having access to dance schools, video tutorials, and large body-sized mirrors, I definitely got put in my place by the dancers I met in Tonga. Here is a recent video of all of them in action.

Another example is a young woman who went from driving around in a car without windows to modelling in Europe, living a life she didn’t even dream about before. I’m sure there are similar stories emerging from other parts of the world. I’ve also seen similar things on Youtube, but there was something different about encountering this phenomenon in person.

Needless to say, as a person who tends to be quick to place limitations on himself, I left feeling inspired, now knowing what can be achieved with not much more than just passion and dedication.


5) WE’RE ALL UNDER THE SAME STARS

As this was my first extended period of time spent in another culture, I noticed a lot of differences. After enough time, I noticed many underlying similarities: Children cry when they fall over, people smile when they see each other, women like dressing up, and guys give each other crap because they care.

On a deeper level, I realised how we all just want to feel safe, to belong, to care for those close to us, and to feel loved ourselves.  We go about it in different ways, but our motives are the same, as with the emotions we feel. Different continents, countries and cultures don’t change the fact that we’re all people, trying to get by on the sample planet, under the same stars.

This is a great video on the topic.


6) TIME FLIES

I was packing my suitcase to leave, and then unpacking it – what felt like – shortly after. In reality, a whole year had passed. Just like that. I regret the time I initially wasted on deliberating on wether my decision to come to Tonga was the right thing to do because…

time doesn’t cease or slow for our uncertainty; it goes on, taking with it, another opportunity.

We all worry and wonder at times, but it’s important to remember that we won’t be where we are for long, and that we won’t be around for long either.  This fact will motive us all in different ways, but..

we all stand to miss something by standing around.

I was on a tiny island where I felt time moved so slowly, but eventually, it was up. I’ve come home to find people getting married and having children, and myself, once again, at a crossroads. I don’t know what’s next, but I know it will be over before I know it.


I’ve got one years worth of daily journal entries, so I’m sure there is more I could add, but I’m happy to close it off here. The experience taught me a lot, I saw another country but also another side to myself. It stretched my imagination and also made me that much more sturdy, mentally. It’s given me a lot to think about, write about, and share.

To you, the reader: I hope you’ve enjoyed this insight into my adventure. Maybe you’ll look at your own life differently… or like I did, have the courage to change yours drasictally.

To Tonga:  malo (thank you) and hopefully toki sio (see you later).

It’s going to be all ripe

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The post that started this blog had something to do with a banana.

I was sitting on a park bench during my lunch break, sunny as it’s ever been, yet as grey as I’ve ever felt. Tears rolled off my cheeks as I stared into emptiness, weighed down by a sense of hopelessness. Dramatic or truthful, the feeling was real – real enough for me to seek professional help for the first time.

I did a few sessions with a psychologist which consisted of breathing and visualisation exercises. What scared me the most was the future and the uncertainty surrounding it – but for some reason I clearly saw myself overseas working with a group of youths. Somehow, I was right. I was offered a one-year position at an educational institute in Tonga a few months later. While it was a wonderful and unexpected opportunity and experience, it eventually passed.

1.5 years later, I’m again in the same boat, on the same bench.. scared, doubting myself, comparing myself to others or how ‘it should be’: all the same shit.

But this time I have a sense of optimism that I didn’t have before. I know such sharp variations in feelings and experiences are as commonly experienced as the heat of summer and the chills of winter. Like a loose leaf, this realisation that “I’m not the only one” fell upon me while sitting in the waiting room before my first psychologist appointment in 2013. The fact was always there, I just hadn’t noticed.

This time, I also have a sense of confidence in myself and in the world that I didn’t have before. I’ve made it through many tough times and I will do so again. My recent travels have allowed me to see more of the world and understand how vast life and its possibilities can be.

Looking back, I understand how tunnel vision can be exceptionally dangerous – especially when we think of any light at the end as an oncoming train. A correction of our own train of thought can allow us to rather see it as an opportunity – and to notice all the wonderful things we’re passing on a second-to-second basis. These things are unfortunately often hidden behind walls that we’ve built or had built around us – but thankfully, they’re also walls that can break, and there are a range of tools to help us do the job.

I guess the whole point of this post is just share one simple thing that I’ve learned since I first accepted something wasn’t right:

We’re all in our own cages, tunnels, cells. Regardless what the circumstance that makes us feel like a prisoner is, getting out all starts with the same thing… thinking knowing that it’s going to be all ripe right.

Challenges in Coming Home

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Men dream more about coming home than they do about leaving – The Alchemist

I still remember being in the kitchen with my house mate, casually dicing ingredients of our dinner, when he cut through the silence… rather bluntly.

“You don’t want to go, do you?” He cared not about offending me, certain in the fact that he knew me. A sign of true friendship.

“Of course not,” I replied. Relieved to let out some honesty like the kettle and its steam. I wanted to stay. I didn’t always like what I had, where I was; but I felt safe in the familiar.

After an initial culture shock, Tonga – where I spent 2014 – also became familiar. It was only when I returned home to Australia, that I realised that Tonga, once dreaded and unknown, had also become a place I felt safe.

The year away presented me with so many different experiences: Good times, bad times, better days and worse ones. One thing that kept me going was knowing that I was coming home. So why aren’t things as great as I envisioned?

It’s explained online that some  of the negative experiences of returning home may include:

• Feeling like family and friends don’t understand how you’ve changed and have tired of listening to your stories
• Feeling like you don’t have anything in common with your friends anymore
• Rejection of your own culture, particularly consumerism and affluence
• Constantly comparing practices in Australia with those in your Host Country
• Uncertainty about the future
• Difficulty making decisions
• Feeling misunderstood
• Boredom
• Loss of identity
• Feeling overwhelmed or disorientated

The technical term is “reverse culture shock.”

The most shocking – rather scary – thing to me is how easy it is to fall back into old routines; to be the same old person. Forgetting all those promises I made about changing as the sun would set over the ocean – a shared treasure in Tonga, but a luxury here, reserved for those with water-front homes.

And here I am back in the suburbs, surrounded by things I now know I don’t need, while uncertain about what I need the most. I’m making changes though: no longer going to the gym as much, focusing on development, speaking to a psychologist, spending less time with certain friends, spending more time with my family. So it’s definitely been good to be back – but not as great as I thought it would be.

I guess the truth is that we can’t run – from ourselves or from our responsibilities. Sure, I’ve come back – but with all intentions of going forwards.

 

 

 

 

Up High & Down Low: Bridge Life

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I almost killed a child.

Sorry, I’lll elaborate. I almost killed off my online persona, ‘Boy’, and deleted my blog.

I foolishly thought that closing this outlet would rid myself of the strange impulses, feelings, and thoughts I have. Wrong. It would just keep them trapped in the last place I want them to be: inside me.

It was in this latest ‘episode’ of mine, that the realisation finally hit me. This isn’t normal. I’m not normal.

A few days ago, I was loving the sight of the moon on a sunny day, I was feeling accomplished and fulfilled following the completion of the latest project, and things were good.

Today, I spent the last 6hrs looking at my bedroom wall – worrying about things already done, and thinking about the things I should be doing – but desperately scraping every thought to find the actual energy or motivation to act. Considering I had spent the last few days happily working non-stop while even forgoing eating, I know this melancholy feeling is arising from a place more primal than that of my stomach… perhaps my soul?

I also know that next week, I’ll be grinning and going again.

This is how life is at the Bridge.

It’s not just a physical place I visit, it’s a metaphor for how I seem to live my life, from two drastically changing perspectives: on top of things, or under them; up high or down low.

A doctor might say the Bridge is just a bridge, but I on the other hand, am possibly bipolar.

Recently watching Stephen Fry’s documentary, The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive, I learned more about bipolar and other various conditions as well as their varying degrees of impact. I’ve never put my put my foot through a window or been a risk to anyone, but I know what it’s like to often feel drained and immobile, with a sense of tunnel vision best described by Van Gogh:

“One feels as if one were lying bound hand and foot at the bottom of a deep dark well, utterly helpless”

 

Like the others featured in Fry’s documentary, I also know what it’s like to have sudden surges of energy, creativity, spontaneity, and optimism. I realised this is the reason I’ve resisted seeking help or medication; I don’t want to lose this part of my personality.

“You’re only given a little spark of madness. Don’t lose it.” -Robin Williams

 

Since his passing, the above quote by Robin Williams now sadly makes another point: there is more to lose that just one’s spark, there’s more important things at stake. For me, it’s not my life, but it’s the experiences of living: the things outside of one’s room; the things above the rut you’re in; the things behind the clouds that are following you; the conversations I’m too anxious to have with people.

So what am I going to do?

Fry puts this hypothetical question forward to a few of his interview subjects: if there was a button that they could press to instantly remove the lows, taking all the highs with it – would they press it? Fry’s own answer can be summed up in his Memoir, Moab is My Washpot: 

“It’s not all bad. Heightened self-consciousness, apartness, an inability to join in, physical shame and self-loathing—they are not all bad. Those devils have been my angels. Without them I would never have disappeared into language, literature, the mind, laughter and all the mad intensities that made and unmade me.”

I know this still doesn’t clarify what I’m going to do. Because I honestly don’t know. But it starts with getting out of bed, making a cup of tea, and sitting in the sunshine.

 

A Letter from Luke

Note from Luke

Meeting Luke was a reminder about how even the most straight forward of roads have their forks. As we have choices, which are also – not as straight forward.

After placing my fork and knife down, I planned to just go home after dinner. As I was walking back, I decided to deliberately pass closer by to a group of guys seated by the beach. Maybe I just wanted a proper conversation. Another chance after the dinner I had just sat awkwardly through.

A timid and tentative “What’s up guys” was replied with a confident “Yo Boy.”

That’s how easy it is for a fork to appear.

It turns out I knew just one of the guys, and it wasn’t long before I knew them all pretty well. Well, at least it feels intimate when you’re stumbling home drunk and sharing a cigarette.

I did think about the important Teacher’s March I had to participate in the next day – but I also thought about the other things on my mind.  Specifics aside, there was regret, worry, fear, and doubt. The typical shit. I thought a drink or two would help ease me up.

And that’s how easy it is to take the wrong turn.

The rest is a blur. I remember offering my couch to Luke, who I had just met that night. I can’t remember what we spoke about exactly, but I’m sure it was the kind of conversation I wanted to have because I do remember singing this

“I never conquered, rarely came
16 just held such better days
Days when I still felt alive
We couldn’t wait to get outside
The world was wide, too late to try
The tour was over we’d survived
I couldn’t wait till I got home
To pass the time in my room alone”

(Adam’s Song -Blink 182)

Before we could make it through the whole song, my head went from banging to hanging – over the toilet. I threw up – several times, before passing out. In the morning Luke was gone but this note was left in my journal.

He had gone his separate way, and I was left to decide which way I was going to go. What choice I was going to make: to suck it up and go to the March, or to stay home. However, it was obvious I had already made my decision last night. I was in absolutely no condition to go anywhere, let alone, move much. I missed the March. I fucked up. In more ways than one, I really felt like shit.

Despite the hangover, I experienced a sense of clarity regarding the next choice I had to make. Since I valued honest conversations, it was time I had one with my supervisor. Someone I knew well. Someone I had also lied to; stating food poison as the reason I was sick.

The irony is, I’m not only back on the right track, I’m further along it. The conversation gave me a chance to be honest about a lot of things. It really improved our relationship.

Of course, my decision to get drunk could have easily been followed by a worse one to lie about it – but it wasn’t. Of course, I could have also gone to the march and still had that conversation I needed to have – but – I didn’t.

Life is never that straight forward.

Perhaps that’s the blessing in the way we encounter and make choices. At least I learned, in this occasion, sometimes the only way we can make that right turn is by making, what appears to be, a wrong one first.